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Article 4 min read

Why we’re all part of the diversity journey

By Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, SVP Global Field Demand & Regional Marketing at Zendesk

Last updated December 7, 2021

2020-2021 was the perfect storm of crisis. Injustice and the pandemic uncertainty made us all pause, and spend time to really think about what was important in our lives – in our workplaces, our communities, and in society. It also propelled us to reflect on the role we all needed to play in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Like many businesses, we’re setting out to make progress in our DEI efforts at Zendesk with each leader having their own journey in learning and understanding how to set a clear and authentic tone – mirrored by their actions – when it comes to DEI. As employers, we all have a duty to be listening, learning and improving all the time.

According to a Black Tech Fest study, over a third (38%) of tech workers thought how companies responded to George Floyd’s death was ‘tokenistic‘. Only 14% said that their place of work had reduced racial bias or comments since.
Progress as we know is not measured by what a company says (or doesn’t say), but how it acts and responds when crises take place, with programmes to help their employees, leaders and organisation rise up in the face of adversity.

Starting at the top

Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter have prompted societal change, and also caused leaders to examine their own processes. Do they have a work environment that feels not just equal, but inclusive? Do workers feel appreciated for the diversity of thought they bring to the table from a wide spectrum of backgrounds including, but not limited to. race, gender, age, education, relationship status, language, and sexual and gender identity. People should feel confident enough to share their unique qualities but there is some work needed to make this happen.

Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer Special Report found that post-pandemic, people of colour are reluctant to re-enter work environments where they repeatedly faced microaggressions. The same survey shared that three quarters of those surveyed said that when considering a job, they now expected employees at all levels within the organisation, to reflect the diversity of the customers and community it serves.

Leadership should lead from the front in making sure diversity in all its forms is an everyday norm. This shouldn’t just be about setting policies; it should be about taking proactive steps in the way we manage and lead teams. We should recognise the work that needs to be done in this area, without losing sight of the small wins we’re seeing along the way.

The things we’ve learnt

We have all learned so much over the last 18 months, that helps us to keep evolving and improving.

Here are some of the lessons we have learned at Zendesk:

  • Be clear about what you stand for as a business.Define values that shape the company and create principles aligned to those values.
  • Develop leadership and employee toolkits. Training and toolkits can help fill knowledge gaps across the organisation for both employees and leaders alike.
  • Encourage employees to speak openly and to connect. At Zendesk, we introduced empathy circles as a safe space for employees to share their experiences.
  • Employee resource groups. Employees are looking to connect with other employees like them to build a sense of community and support through shared experiences. We have six employee groups at Zendesk including Mosaic, an employee group created to celebrate, and embrace cultural and ethnic differences.
  • Embrace flexibility. This is key to welcoming a more diverse workforce but requires a shift in mindset from recognising only input, to focusing on output and accomplishments.
  • Listen and act. Listening is only one part of driving inclusivity. The response is what we’re measured against. As part of our DEI commitment, we introduced the Zendesk Inclusion Index with a goal to measure the impact of our global company-wide DEI efforts.

Prepare for change

What’s important is that we make room for these efforts to be made.

We need to foster and encourage an environment where our employees can learn, grow, develop. We need to create a psychologically safe environment where they can be the best they can be. They are encouraged to surface new and innovative ideas where they are not afraid to experiment. And on days they are struggling, they have an environment where they can share openly with leadership and each other when things are impacting them or holding them back.

Diversity and inclusion comes in all shapes and forms. In a lot of ways, the pandemic has also opened up an opportunity for people who might want or need greater flexibility in their work life to finally have the environment to do that. For example, providing the opportunity for both mothers and fathers to take time out to spend with family in the middle of the day. Or for people who want to live out of the city, overseas or closer to family to be able to work remotely.

We now have the power to re-evaluate working practices and teams to accommodate more people in different ways. And as we continue to listen to our employees, and society at large, we will have more insights on how we can remove the barriers that stymie both inclusion and creativity. We have to embrace the challenge, and be determined with response in this new world. Let’s keep learning, keep evolving, and keep embracing the uncharted journey ahead of us.

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